Blog of the Week – Alexander Technique Exercise: Semi-supine

Originally published May 4, 2015 by Adrian Farrell

Whilst researching keywords to help my website rank well in search engines, I discovered that one of the most searched for phrases is “Alexander Technique exercises”.  This must be very frustrating for those who are doing the searching, as any Alexander Teacher will tell you, there’s no such thing as an Alexander Technique exercise! The word exercise implies something you do, and the problem is that you’ll filter any instruction through your current filter of the way you habitually move. To do something new, you effectively have to stop doing! The Alexander Technique applies to any activity, whether it’s sitting, standing, running, doing yoga, playing a musical instrument, you name it and Alexander can be applied to it. It’s more about the way that you do it, the quality you bring to it, rather than the activity itself. That said, if we swap the word “exercise” for “exploration” then we’re on the right path and I can let my professional pedantry remain intact.

Lying in semi-supine, or constructive rest.
Picture by Aron Cserveny and used with permission by Tim Soar MSTAT

So, the most common Alexander “exercise” is known as semi-supine, or constructive rest (I prefer the latter name) and essentially consists of lying down, pretty easy, eh?! The specifics are that you lie on your back with your knees raised pointing upwards (as this takes pressure off the lower back), feet flat on the floor and your head raised/supported by something firm, typically a book. If you were to stand with your back to a wall you’ll notice that your head does not actually touch the wall, and this is normal. That is why your head needs to be supported when lying down on your back as gravity naturally pulls the head back towards the floor and this puts an undue strain on your neck. We’re all different shapes and sizes which is why it’s common to use a book (or several books, but yoga blocks work nicely too) as it’s easier to find the right height of support for you with a little trial and error.  If in doubt, it’s better for the support to be a little high than too low. The reason that a cushion isn’t suitable is that it’s harder for your neck muscles to fully release as your head never feels fully supported by a soft base. Another thing to be aware of is that your head is rotated forward in relation to the neck, just as in standing and described in greater detail here.

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